Rethinking Legal Education in Afghanistan: The Law Program at the American University of Afghanistan

35 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2020

See all articles by Mehdi J. Hakimi

Mehdi J. Hakimi

Harvard University - Harvard Law School; Stanford Law School

Erik G. Jensen

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2019


Despite significant international development assistance, Afghanistan continues to grapple with daunting rule of law challenges. Corruption remains a gnarly obstacle, with the justice sector especially mired in graft. A foundational problem contributing to the justice sector woes has been the deficient state of the legal education system. The outdated and bifurcated model of Afghan legal education has been largely unresponsive to the realities of the evolving Afghan legal system and the pressing needs of the wider justice sector. In the midst of the doom and gloom, however, a quiet, methodical, and radical approach to legal education has been unfolding at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) for the past decade.

This Article examines AUAF's Bachelor of Arts and Laws (BA-LLB) program in detail and parses its evolution, including successes and challenges, in deviating from the traditional and flawed approach to legal education in Afghanistan. In setting the context, the Article will first provide brief overviews of the Afghan legal education system and the recently established AUAF. The Article will then take a deep dive into the various facets of the AUAF law program, including its early days, legal studies certificate program, BA-LLB program design, emphasis on legal pluralism, and innovative teaching materials. It will also explore other key aspects including the languages of instruction, faculty, program monitoring and evaluation, pedagogical approach, legal skills development, and students.

With only five cohorts of BA-LLB graduates, the program is still relatively nascent. A number of concrete measures are needed to consolidate the law program and increase its impact. These include expanding the curriculum and textbook development efforts, further emphasizing practical legal education, and increasing collaboration with other Afghan institutions.

In emerging as a successful and innovative model for legal education in Afghanistan, the program has benefitted from a substantial degree of institutional support at various levels to truly own, design, and implement its curricular and programmatic activities. Moreover, the program's emphasis on a gradual and incremental approach towards growth, grounded in the realities of an evolving context, has been crucial to its success.

In the quest to revamp the justice sector, the experience of the AUAF law program may shed light on long-term and cost-effective approaches towards improving legal education and, in turn, the rule of law in Afghanistan and other post-conflict countries.

Keywords: Afghanistan, Afghan Law, Legal Education, Legal Pluralism, Islamic Law, Shari’a, Customary Law, Comparative Law, Transnational Law, International Law, Legal Profession, Justice Reform, Legal Reform, Rule of Law, Law and Development

Suggested Citation

Hakimi, Mehdi J. and Jensen, Erik G., Rethinking Legal Education in Afghanistan: The Law Program at the American University of Afghanistan (2019). Stanford Journal of International Law Vol. 55, No. 2 (2019), Available at SSRN:

Mehdi J. Hakimi (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Law School

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Stanford Law School

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Erik G. Jensen

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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